The U.S. House of Representatives, on a 236-191 vote, Thursday night passed a sweeping police reform bill named in honor of Minneapolis murder victim George Floyd.
The vote, largely on party lines, came a day after the U.S. Senate failed to act on a much weaker Republican-sponsored bill. In a gridlocked Washington, D.C., the two chambers face the pressure to act in continued mass demonstrations and unfolding cases where police have used excessive force.
All seven of Washington’s Democratic House members backed the legislation, named the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act. The three Republican House members from Washington voted no. Just three GOP Congress members voted for the legislation.
The bill is “the first step toward delivering change — banning chokeholds, stopping no-knock warrants, combating racial profiling and establishing new standards for policing,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash. “I was proud to vote for it.”
Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., an original cosponsor of the legislation, said, “This is long overdue and I am proud to join the Congressional Black Caucus today in voting for this critical piece of legislation. One bill alone cannot end generations of racism but it can begin to address many of the systematic inequalities discrimination has created in our country.”
Although Fox News has depicted mayhem in Seattle streets — and used film from Minneapolis to prove it — Washington has experienced peaceful anti-racism demonstrations of as many as 60,000 people. The demonstrations have taken place as far afield as Twisp and Winthrop in the Methow Valley. The protests have put a spotlight on the early March death of a man in Tacoma Police custody, his last words: “I can’t breathe.”
Washington voters in 2018 passed — over opposition from the Seattle Police Officers Guild — Initiative 940, revising and reforming standards for training officers, investigating deaths in police custody, and standards under which officers can be prosecuted for excessive use of force.
“George Floyd was killed one month ago today and since then, Americans from every walk of life across the country have been protesting and demanding change. “Systematic racism continues to permeate all corners of our country’s institutions, burdening so many Black Americans and other communities of color,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The House legislation would also end the qualified immunity doctrine that is a barrier to civil litigation and barrier to holding police officers accountable for wrongful conduct. The legislation would require police departments to send data on the use of force to the federal government and facilitate an independent investigation by the state’s attorney general into excessive use of force.
It establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave a department from moving to another jurisdiction.
“Real justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland and countless others and their families means ending police brutality and addressing the systemic issues that enable racism and inequity to exist,” Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said in a statement.
The rookie member of Washington’s delegation, Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., noted, however, “This is the beginning. Much more change is needed to dismantle systems in the United States that unfairly target Black people and people of color.”
The legislation is “a bold first step,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., tweeted. “The Senate must swiftly follow our lead.”
Don’t bet on it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already predicted that the House bill will be dead on arrival in the upper chamber. President Trump continues to tweet “LAW AND ORDER” and threatened a veto.
What a difference from the 1960s, when Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen supplied votes that broke Southern Democrats’ filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and a GOP congressman from Ohio, William McCoullogh, blocked every attempt by Democrats to weaken the bill. McCullough was a ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.